The International Edgar Allan Poe Festival is returning to Baltimore next weekend. It is held the weekend before the anniversary of his death (October 7) right outside the house where he launched his career as the master of the macabre.
It’s remarkable, really, that the streets around this tiny five-room house close down for two days of merriment, story telling and fun—as Baltimoreans and people from just about everywhere celebrate the author who practically invented the horror story and the detective story, Edgar Allan Poe.
Last year, at the first annual festival—even then we were sure it would be an annual celebration—ladies from the housing projects that surround Mr. Poe’s house put out their lawn chairs and enjoyed the festivities. Some offered to help as we set up.
I’ve been a volunteer in the house for a fair number of years—I can’t remember when I first showed up to show people around the house. The house knocks my socks off, just imagining what it must have been like on those cold—or hot—days on the edge of Baltimore City. Even though he was the only adult male in the household, his Aunt Maria didn’t say, “Edgar, go get a good-paying job.” Or if she did, he didn’t listen and she didn’t toss him out onto Amity Street. No, even with his cousins Henry and Virginia hanging about, his grandmother sick in bed in the front room upstairs, he wrote the first stories that made him a household name.
I find that support so amazing. This family rented a little house and lived on
Grandmother’s pension while Edgar—tossed out of West Point and the University of Virginia before that—put his heart and soul into his career as a literary critic, poet and writer. Not many people did that in the 1830s and yet he was determined to make it his life’s work—not a sideline while he taught, worked for a newspaper, sailed a ship or built houses.
For that I am truly grateful to his aunt, Maria Clemm and his grandmother Elizabeth Poe. We all should be, I think. Because he could count on them to provide a roof, cook his food and mend his clothes, he could attend to the thing that made him who he wanted to be.
He lived in the house on Amity Street only from 1833 to 1835 before heading off to Richmond. Why he returned to Baltimore in late September 1849, ultimately dying on October 7, remains a mystery. He wasn’t expected here but because of mysterious circumstances it is in a Baltimore cemetery where he rests, along with his Aunt Maria and his beloved Virginia.
If you love Poe, or if you love a writer, this is a great weekend to come and spend two days with fellow fans. And make sure you life a glass to the family that supported him while he scribbled and revised and wrote the first of those stories we love so much.
Here’s a schedule of events—there’s also info on vendors and parking here. By the way, the Poe House is so small that only a handful of people are allowed inside at a time. Timed tickets will sell out before the festival begins. Get them now.